If you were reading conspiracy mega-warehouse InfoWars earlier this week— and why wouldn’t you be—you would’ve seen an eye-popping item about a business called Demand Protest, which claimed to stage mass protests across the United States. Last night, in a bizarrely likable segment, Tucker Carlson at Fox News had on the guy claiming to be the group’s “director of operations.” “This is a hoax,” Carlson said, correctly, at the outset of perhaps the weirdest six minutes ever to air on Fox.
Whoever set up Demand Protest wanted to create the appearance that left-wing social movements like Occupy Wall Street and, uh, Hillary Clinton’s campaign are backed by a bunch of big fakers. On their website, Demand Protest said they’d worked on behalf of unnamed “2016 presidential campaigns.” They also offered lots and lots of money to disrupt the Trump inauguration: a $2,500 retainer plus $50 per hour of protesting and health benefits.
“When you need the appearance of outrage,” the site wrote, “We are able to deliver it at scale while keeping your reputation intact.”
Right-wing media outlets exploded with joy: outlets like the Washington Times and Town Hall reported that Demand Protest had placed ads on places like Backpage, with Town Hall adding, “There may really be such a thing as a paid protester.” (Washington Times has since updated their article to say it was a hoax.) But even InfoWars was cautious, writing that it was unclear if the website was “legitimate.”
In the meantime, it was tough for the rest of us not to notice tiny details, like the fact that according to a Who Is Lookup, the website was created on December 2, meaning that it would’ve been tough for the business to be operational during a presidential campaign that ended almost a month before. SFist tried calling the phone number with a San Francisco area code listed for the business and found that not a single extension works. (When Jezebel tried calling the number listed for “operatives” late last night, we heard a wavering recording taped by a very young-sounding woman.)
Enter Tucker Carlson, who had on Dom Tullipso, the guy claiming to be Demand Protest’s director of operations. Dom had all the blinky, fidgety charm of Joaquin Phoenix mid-I’m Still Here, and Carlson immediately called bullshit on the whole thing.
“So, this is a sham,” he said, pleasantly. “Your company isn’t real, your website is fake, the claims you have made are lies, this is a hoax. Let me start at the beginning, however, with your name, Dom Tullipso, which is not your real name. It’s a fake name, we ran you through law enforcement-level background checks and that name does not exist. So let’s start out with the truth. Tell me what your real name is.”
Dom insisted that it was definitely his real name, but was unable to produce any ID or a credit card or anything else demonstrating that was true. Carlson then asked, you know, why the hell: “Is this an effort to discredit the protesters at the Trump inauguration? Is it an effort to convince conservative news organizations to pick up the story and therefore highlight their gullibility?”
Dom replied that he assumed “I wouldn’t be given airtime on a national stage unless I was legitimate.”
“I’m saying you are not legitimate,” Carlson replied. “You are lying. You have fooled other news organizations, you didn’t fool us.” (It’s very exciting for Fox News to get their hands on an actual fact and you will have to forgive him for maybe over-blowing his own horn.)
Carlson went to point out math: “You pay a retainer to 1,817 operatives every month. Now if that were actually true, that’s $54 million you’re spending just on retainers. It’s another $30 million a year if you’re paying them for six hours a week work. That’s demonstrably... silly.”
Dom replied that actually, they’re paying out $80 million a year.
“You’re not conceding this a hoax?” Carlson asked, incredulously.
Dom agreed that he wasn’t conceding anything, then said, casually, that Demand Protest has “changed our position” and decided to “protest the protesters” at the inauguration. He said that change of heart happened like 30 minutes ago.
A truly committed troll, Dom added, ““We are greatly, greatly supportive of national treasures such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Peyton Manning, and we really support their efforts to really get the truth out there, and in the case of the current client we have right now, uh, that client is, um, very interested in releasing the Roswell papers.”
Peyton Manning is a football player, and the rest of that statement was an obvious, large wink meant to mean that Demand Protest was working with John Podesta, former Hillary Clinton campaign chair and UFO enthusiast. At this point, Tucker Carlson was giggling so hard he could barely talk.
“Thanks for joining us,” he finally said, giving up. “Whoever you are. Last question. Be honest—did you think we were gonna fall for—be honest? Did you think you were going to come on and—” Carlson collapsed into laughter and couldn’t continue. Dom grinned.
“God bless you for fact-checking, even if you did it when you were on the air,” he said sweetly.
Anyway, one YouTube conspiracy theorist is now claiming that the whole thing was a sham to “discredit the Pizzagate investigation,” and, what’s more, that Dom is a Hillary Clinton operative with a demon eyeball.
This is getting to be a very weird country.
Update, 1:45 p.m.:
We got an email earlier this afternoon from someone identifying himself as “Reggie Reefer,” who purports to be Demand Protest’s director of News and Outreach. He is allegedly mad that we identified the woman on the recording as “young-sounding:”
It has come to our attention that there was an editorial error in your recent story entitled “Look at That: Fox News Correctly Identified a Fake Paid Protester Site as Fake.” You incorrectly identified the recorded voice on the Demand Protest phone line as a “very young-sounding woman.” This was not recorded by a “very young woman,” but a mature and well-ripened piece of adult female fruit, and this is disrespectful. Please correct your error.
Our apologies to the... fruit...referenced in the story, then. We requested a follow-up call with a Demand representative to chat about the company. Reefer responded that the CEO of the company is quite busy due to the inauguration:
Regarding your request for a phone call, our CEO, Rick Loom, has read your article and would like to speak with you personally to address the misconception you have perpetuated in your article that Demand Protest is not a legitimate strategic consulting company.
Unfortunately, Mr. Loom’s calendar is quite impacted today, as the inauguration is just days away. Please let me know the best phone number to reach you and I will pass it on to Mr. Loom’s secretary. She will try to identify a few minutes this afternoon for Mr. Loom to fit in this phone call between other meetings.
Reefer’s email address identifies him as Reggie Reefer, but the listed name that appears next to the email address is “Rick Loom.” We’ve asked if maybe they are the same person. We’re awaiting a reply.
Update: Reefer responded very quickly, attributing that one to a “technical glitch.” The email address now matches its listed name. So that’s good.